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US Supreme Court stays Texas execution after agreeing to hear lethal injection case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued a stay of execution [order, PDF] Thursday for a a Texas inmate just hours before he was scheduled to be executed. Earlier this week, the Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) [docket; cert. petition], where the Court will consider whether lethal injections of death row inmates constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, though the Court did not provide specific reasons for granting a stay for Carlton Turner, Jr., convicted of killing his adoptive parents in 1998. Also Thursday, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley [official website] stayed the execution of an Alabama inmate for 45 days while the state develops a new lethal injection procedure [press release].

Texas, like many other states, uses a controversial three-drug mixture [DPIC backgrounder] of an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart. The Kentucky Supreme Court [official website] ruled in the Baze case that the state's current method of lethal injection, the same method Texas uses, does not violate the constitution [JURIST report] because the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain." Several constitutional challenges [JURIST news archive] to the procedure have arisen across the country, arguing that the first drug fails to make the inmate fully unconscious, thereby making the inmate suffer excruciating pain when the heart-stopping drug is injected. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

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